I’ve flown in supersonic fighters, and dived in a deep-sea submersible in search of a sunken WW II naval vessel. I’ve ridden elephants in the jungles of Thailand, climbed pyramids in the Yucatan and worked on movie sets with Kelsey Grammer and Margo Kidder. Perhaps rather later in life than most, at the age of forty five, I decided to embark on the ultimate adventure of all…. starting a family.
On Mothers’ Day, a few years ago, my wife, Krista, surprised me with the news of a positive pregnancy test. She repeated it just to make sure and I joked that with two positive tests it was probably twins. She didn’t think that was terribly funny. She thought it even less funny when I told her I weighed ten pounds six ounces when I was born and that this was likely hereditary. We calculated that her due date was January 17th, 2001, a true millennium baby.
Although it was early in the gestation, we were so excited we told our families. Since I am a family practitioner in a small community word got our fairly quickly that Doctor Burden was “expecting”. My parents’ youngest grandchild is eight, so an expected newborn caused a bit of a stir for Mom and Dad, as well as my three sisters, and nephews and nieces. Friends with fairly recent pregnancies offered us clothes, changing tables, playpens etc. We began planning how to re-arrange the home and decorate a nursery. The “girls” at the office even told me I’d make a great dad
It’s funny how you start to personify an unborn child. We selected names, George for a boy and Larissa for a girl. My great grandfather, grandfather and I all share the name George. The name seems to have become a bit trendy again, though I don’t think we’ll ever see Georges quite as numerous as Jordans and Adams. Larissa, an early Christian martyr I believe, is a girl’s name that just sort of caught our fancy. Krista said she was sure we were going to have a girl.
Krista’s belly started to protrude a bit and I got into the habit of patting it, speculating what the baby might be doing in ten years, twenty years or more…
I used to roll my eyes as how “goofy” expectant dads were, telling everyone that “we’re pregnant” and getting excited in a little boy manner at anything related to babies, coddling the expectant mom etc. Suddenly I could relate, perhaps even turning into one of those “goofy” dads myself. Surely it is a special feeling one can’t describe to someone who has never experienced it, a truly visceral combination of pride and anticipation.
As Krista seemed to be showing a little more than expected for her dates we booked an ultrasound at the Grace Maternity, to confirm the due date. There had been no problems, no cramping and very little morning sickness. Our first appointment with our obstetrician, Dr. Ralph Loebenberg, was booked a week after the investigation.
The ultrasound showed a fetus just the right size for the expected gestation, appearing normal in every way. I joked that the fuzzy shadow on the screen looked just like my wife. Funny though, I couldn’t see a heart beat. The radiologist ordered a transvaginal ultrasound, for a more close up and detailed view. Still no heart beat. Our own hearts sank and I felt my throat tighten, expecting the worst. Ralph fitted us in to his busy schedule that morning and discussed our options. It seemed there was little hope for a viable pregnancy, but a repeat ultrasound was ordered for the following week to confirm if the pregnancy was lost.
It was a beautiful sunny spring day as we left the building. A daycare worker passed us, pushing a full four-baby stroller, an image seemingly designed to tease and mock us. Krista hand squeezed my hand more tightly.
The subsequent week was a somber one and the ultrasound confirmed the loss. We met once more with Ralph and a D&C was arranged for the following day. I called my office staff and booked the day off. I think they sensed something was wrong as I usually would have taken a little more heat for a last minute change such as this.
The next day I took Krista to the hospital. What a different perspective from the usual. I had had my fair share of expectant mothers lose their pregnancies in the past and I like to think that I handled them in a concerned and sympathetic manner. Having gone through this myself will forever add a degree of empathy to the experience.
The Grace hospital staff was wonderful. Everyone from the admitting clerk to the nurses to the anesthetist was patient and comforting through this emotionally trying experience. Krista was taken into the OR and a half an hour later Ralph came out and told me everything went well and it would be an hour or so before she’d be out of the recovery room. I left my cell phone number and went for a walk in the gardens outside, burgeoning now from our east coast spring, an odd juxtaposition of new life and fertility compared to our personal loss. I felt a pang of sadness and wondered how people who lose newborn infants must feel. Thinking of this I somehow did not feel entitled to mourn.
I returned to the hospital and picked Krista up at the front door. She was brought down in a wheel chair, looking sad and pale. I helped her into the car. As we drove off the classical station was ironically broadcasting the gentle chords of Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess”.
Tears trickled down my cheeks on that long, silent trip home. What a sense of loss, of foundered dreams and vanished futures--first words never heard, ball games never played, gap toothed smiles never seen. The role of dad, an identity that I’d just begun to embrace, was ripped away in one brief moment. The tiny infant, who I had caressed in my imagination, faded like a wisp of smoke in the wind.
But lives must be lived, and time passes on. And, as always, it is human nature to hope and to try again…